A few weeks ago, Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo made an appearance on Rendezvous With Zeinad Badawi. During her appearance she read an extract from a story that she wrote “In America”. The story is about the immigrant experience and the costs that some people pay for leaving home and not being able to return.
And when our parents reminded us over the phone that it had been a long, long time, and that they were getting old and needed to see us, needed to meet their grandchildren, we said, we are coming mama, siyabuya baba, we are coming gogo, tirikuuya sekuru. We did not want to tell them we still had no papers. And when they grew restless and cursed
America for being the greedy monster that swallowed their children, swallowed the sons and daughters of other lands and refused to spit them out, we said, we are coming very soon, we are coming next year. And next year came and we said, next year. When next year came we said, next year for sure. And when next year for sure came we said, next year for real. And when next year for real came we said, we are coming, you’ll see, just wait. And our parents waited and they saw, saw that we did not come.
They died waiting, clutching pictures of us leaning against the Lady Liberty in their dried hands, graves of lost sons and daughters in their hearts, old eyes glued to the sky for fulamatshinaz (diaspora planes) to bring forth lost sons and daughters.
The story tells a tale about the struggles of getting to America and upon getting there, people forgetting about the dreams that they went there to pursue. This left work as the next option and due to visa restrictions, it meant working illegal and with the passage of time, the expiration of visas and people becoming illegal immigrants and all the while working menial to support family back home.
It carries on telling the story of becoming stuck in the diaspora and longing for Mother Africa. Children being born and raised in a way that is completely different to how they are raised at home. The passage of time also brings with it the passing of loved ones (parents) and facing the harsh reality of not being able to properly say goodbye. It then leads on to their own inevitable aging and their children putting them in nursing homes to be taken care of by strangers which is soon followed by death, an unceremonious burial and a spirit left in limbo.
Being stuck in the diaspora and not having the papers to return back home is a story echoed by many Zimbabweans. “In America” gets you thinking about the costs of living in the diaspora and leaves you wonder if it is worth it?
The article was published in Callaloo, an African Diaspora literary journal and can be found in it’s entirety here.